April 27, 2005
Work for Hire...or Indentured Servitude? By Angela Hoy | printable version
Picture this. You see an ad from a large publishing house. They're seeking an author for a new book and the ad looks like it was written just for you! You have a good feelin' about this one! You respond to the ad and are thrilled to hear from the project's editor just a few days later. However, before they can discuss the project further, they want you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Well, you think, okay...
The disclosure arrives by fax and you send a copy to your attorney. You're a savvy author and you don't commit to long-term contracts without having your attorney take a look first. He says it's fine. You sign it and quickly send it to the editor.
The editor responds by sending a note, asking you if you want the job. The letter goes on to state that the project is "work for hire" but paying royalties only. (You think royalties in lieu of a flat fee for work-for-hire is odd, but perhaps not entirely unheard of? You'll have to check that out with your writer friends and your attorney.)
On reading further, you realize that, while they're asking if you want the job, they've left the following items out of the letter:
So, basically, they want your answer about the job...without giving you any payment information whatsoever up front.
You realize that little bell ringing in the back of your head when they sent the non-disclosure agreement should have been ringing a little louder. If you were an amateur writer, you'd probably assume, just because this is a big publishing house, that they'll take care of you. After all, why would they risk their reputation by pulling one over on you? Well, they haven't, you see, because, due to the non-disclosure agreement you just signed, you'll never be able to talk about the job or your experiences with this firm, even if they never pay you or if your final pay amounts to pennies per hour.
If you question the editor at this point, you know your chances of being chosen for the project are zero. They're obviously looking for someone who won't ask those questions or who doesn't know any better.
Some publishers, even the big ones, are seeking more and more ways to take more rights away from authors while paying them less. Let's face it. They're more concerned with their bottom line and pleasing their shareholders than they are about writers feeding their families. I see it all the time. And, those non-disclosure agreements silence authors who might ordinarily have been able to alert us all to these publishers' slimy tactics.
The situation above really happened to one of our readers. In fact, she's the one that came up with the title for this article. We can't tell you who she or the publisher is because she signed that non-disclosure agreement. But, what I can tell you is that she's a professional and knew that she was about to be scammed. She not only declined the offer, but also told that editor exactly what she thought of the deal.
If we all stood up to the heavyweights this way, the industry just might be a better place for all of us.
Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and Booklocker.com. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing emag for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. Booklocker.com, is rated the top POD Publisher by attorney Mark Levine. Mark's book, The Fine Print, analyzes the contracts and services of 73 top POD and ebook publishers. Read more HERE. Booklocker.com can publish your paperback or hardcover book in 4-6 weeks for only $217.
This article may be reprinted/redistributed freely as long as the entire article and bio are included.